Acts of kindness: How brands need to think about mental wellness

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, at a time when all our mental wellness has been radically challenged.

By Matt Price, Design Director

May 2021

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It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, at a time when all our mental wellness has been radically challenged. I live alone and haven’t had interaction with anyone in over two months. But I have been interacting with brands, some which have touched me with kindness, others which have looked to exploit the moment.

Do brands have a responsibility to our mental wellness? And if so, what should they be thinking and doing?

Adversity breeds compassion

Over the last few months, our freedoms and our lives have been completely altered in a way most of us have never experienced before. And while this pandemic has fuelled the xenophobic, racist, fear mongering fire in a few, I believe the overwhelming majority of people have accepted the challenge to become more self-aware and, dare I say, compassionate. And of course, like with any major global event, brands have been going into overdrive working out how they can respond to and reflect this new behaviour.

Brands are turning to compassion, kindness and championing mental health as a way of connecting with consumers, but during this period many have found it challenging to know how to be kind. Some brands have distanced themselves knowing that striking the right tone is a minefield riddled with pitfalls, others have used it as a PR “hey look at me” opportunity. Then there are those that genuinely seem to care, and in a time when you want and need someone to check-in, that’s a nice feeling. It also gives you hope that there is a positivity to the future.

Kindness is a natural fit for brands with purpose

I formerly worked at Gousto, a recipe-box business with a mission to get the nation eating better. They could have used these opportune conditions to force more recipe boxes on customers. Instead they shifted their focus to enabling people to find and support local food suppliers and restaurants with their Food Finder app and campaign.

Now, this isn’t necessarily original, but what’s important is that Gousto continued to work towards and fulfil their purpose and values: to deliver inspiration to every home cook. This purpose guided how the brand should pivot to do the kindest thing when it mattered most, going from recipe inspiration to community inspiration. Brands that show genuine compassion for people, not just customers, fill us with joy. So this leads me to ask, should brands consider “kindness” as a core value?

Trust is built in months and shattered in minutes

But what about mental health more broadly? We’ve seen Headspace offer free subscriptions to 36.5 million unemployed in America and other acts of kindness from brands. But mental health isn’t just about acts of kindness once in a while. Now more so than ever it is a daily challenge.

Research has shown that during periods of mental health ‘lows’ we buy things, engaging in retail therapy as it was once known in the Sex and the City era. This behaviour is even more pronounced during these stay-at-home times. This psychological vulnerability provides brands with an interesting challenge: by understanding and empathising they could either pounce and take short-term advantage of a more easily influenced customer, or they could build long-term trust by easing customers’ tension, fear, anxiety.

Trust is a tricky one: brands have abused trust before. But trust can be built through meaningful actions and words: look at Barry’s Bootcamp. Pre Covid-19, it was a brand associated with expensive, elite fitness classes for bronzed influencers and their loyal worshippers. During Covid-19 Barry’s Bootcamp has given almost unprecedented free access to their personal trainers and bespoke workouts all freely accessible on Instagram, multiple times a day. The emphasis has been on inclusivity, with trainers opting for universally available equipment like chairs and books rather than resistance bands and dumbbells. This is a great example of a brand building trust through empathy, and it will have changed their brand perception for good.

So, can brands improve our mental health?

There’s a balance between being there for someone and being overbearing - I've done both and been on the receiving end of both so I would know. It’s no different for brands – they can help but it’s all about balance. Fewer but better quality activations, communications or check-ins are the most significant ways brands can help.

Like a friend or family member, you just want to know that they are there for you and when they do reach out it’s genuine, thought through and honest. But also – like a family member – there can’t be an implicit gain or win to be had when it comes to mental health. Brands that can engage credibly with mental health have truly earned the trust of their audience, and they haven’t done that through transparent campaigns or buzz-words. In this arena, it’s all about being a person rather than protecting the bottom line, and brands that understand that will come out on top.

By Matt Price
Design Director

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